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Classes prep card dealers for casino economy

NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH — Pick up the money first, then the cards.

Never pay a winner with chips another player has just lost.

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And “if it lays, it plays.” Do not let players touch their wagers once a deal begins.

These are cardinal rules of dealing blackjack, drilled into students in the inaugural class of the New England Casino Dealer Academy, a private school founded in the Emerald Square Mall by two Rhode Island entrepreneurs, Joe Tutalo and Michael Tassoni, to capitalize on the emerging Massachusetts casino industry.

Their students, such as 59-year-old retiree Stasia Peters of Attleboro, also hope to cash in on the industry, with jobs.

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“This is an opportunity to strike when the iron is hot,” said Peters. “They’re going to want people who have some ability. Plus this gives me retire­ment opportunities in other states, if I want to go south.”

People like Peters will be one measure of success for the Massachusetts casino industry, which is expected in the next several years to produce thousands of jobs at as many as three resort-style casinos and one slot machine parlor. The promise of new jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession was critical to the successful 2011 effort on Beacon Hill to legalize Las Vegas-style casinos in Massachusetts.

After a career as an educator, Peters hopes to supplement her retirement income by dealing cards.

Ray Gomes of Providence said he was laid off as a postal carrier about 18 months ago and is still looking for work. He has tried to expand his prospects by taking community college classes in tech support and is expanding again by learning to deal blackjack.

“It’s real hard,” he said of the job search. “Seems like ­nobody’s hiring, and the people who are hiring are looking for a lot of qualifications that you don’t really have.”

Chris Bois (top center), a student at the New England Casino Dealer Academy, reacted during blackjack class.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Chris Bois (top center), a student at the New England Casino Dealer Academy, reacted during blackjack class.

Gomes, 27, and his wife are “just, just making it right now,” he said, with his unemployment benefits and her work as a day-care provider. “I have to find something.”

He attended a job fair at Twin River slot parlor in Rhode Island and has already submitted an application. “I’ll apply to Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun,” he said. “And I’ll wait to see what casinos open here in Massachusetts.”

After a few days of class, Gomes was still trying to master shuffling multiple decks, and learning proper habits, such as using the left hand to pay the winning players on the left side of the table, so as not to turn his back to the players on the right side.

Tutalo, a former pit manager and supervisor at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, had the idea of opening a casino dealer school about three years ago, as momentum built toward expand­ing gambling in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. His business partner Tassoni is the school’s president. They have investment partners who helped provide the $400,000 they needed to open the school. The dealer academy is licensed by the state Division of Professional Licensure, though the state gambling commission has not yet set minimum training standards for casino dealers. Tutalo said he is confident his classes will exceed whatever standards the commission may establish.

Students practice with ­authentic chips and on blackjack tables similar to any in a casino. They train 16 hours a week for eight weeks. The cost of the blackjack course is listed as $800 on the academy’s website. Upcoming classes will cover roulette, poker, and craps, and the partners expect to add other games.

The initial blackjack course attracted about 60 students, who are split among three daily sessions, said Tassoni.

Early one morning last week, about 25 student croupiers dealt hands of blackjack to each other as Tutalo passed among the tables. He urged the students to deal the cards straight and neat, like setting a formal dining table.

“Being a dealer is prestigious,” he said. “I want you to impress the player.”

On the third day of school, mistakes were common. ­Tutalo interrupted a game when a dealer slid a $15 bet, three $5 chips, from a losing player to another player who had won $15 on the hand.

That’s a major no-no.

Those chips the player just lost? “We call that dirty money,” Tutalo said. “Never pay a winner with dirty money.”

The loser’s chips should be recycled back into the dealer’s tray, and the winner should be paid from another stack. That preserves the sense of camaraderie among players, who tend to have more fun when they are united against the house.

People having fun play longer and tip their dealers better.

Tutalo showed the students how to accept a chip as a tip: “You say thank you very much ma’am, tap it on the table and throw it in the tip bag,” he said. “That’s how you will make your money.”

Said one student, “I can’t wait.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@­globe.com.
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